November 30, 2019

Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and a Political Specialist. He retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. After two years of concentration, he has been able to share his knowledge, understanding and his intimate professional association with the US Department of State in the form of a book – ‘Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America‘. Being aware of how America’s foreign policy worked- sometimes in a strange manner, he has come out with an unbiased text full of data in his book nowhere else is contained. Daya Gamage has authorised the writer to ” to quote anything from his book” so that the readers will get a clear picture of  America’s Foreign Policy,  Sri Lanka’s National Issues and the LTTE struggle in depth. Gamage handles the United States Bureau of the Online daily newspaper Asian Tribune constantly making the readers knowledgeable of the manner in which U.S. foreign policy towards Third World nations works. His book is available at Amazon

At a dinner gathering on May 2012 in Las Vegas  Nevada several erudite medical surgeons practising in the USA, two of whom were Sri Lankan Tamils hailing from the Jaffna Peninsula were quite knowledgeable about the situation in their former homeland. Daya Gamage had the opportunity of participating in discourse with an academic, who was directly engaged with Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process. He had been “commissioned”  to enlighten the GSL ( Govt. of Sri Lanka)  on what lessons Sri Lanka as a nation had learnt from the ethnic strife and also, was part of a group had been asked to recommend policy planks to aid the government in a program of conflict resolutions.

What was expected from this academic during the interaction , one in  in which  the Jaffna Tamil medical personnel were all talents and participated keenly  to get some insight into the degree to which Sri Lanka was conscious  of what the US State Department had been signalling, professing, promoting and advocating all those years:  whether Sri Lanka took note of those ideas during its research for a condenses  national policy towards the conflict resolution, at least  since 1985 Thimpu ( Bhutan)  talks between the GSL and the LTTE representatives. The signals as indicated by Daya Gamage in relation to Sri Lanka’s governance, rule of law, ethnic strife, race relations, minority rights, devolution of power to the periphery, etc. 

When the issue was placed before him that the intensive security of a broad spectrum of national issues  and the policy planks developed by the US State Department FSOs ( Foreign Service Officers) stationed in Colombo in the 1980s and 1990s would be  relevant or helpful in the context that existed, he who had direct links to President Rajapaksa dismissed the notion.

From what sounded  like a very authoritative position, his understanding was that the American Embassy in Colombo had been until ‘recently’, exclusively in conversation, dialogue and contact with Sri Lanka’s  elite and the American diplomatic mission was out of touch with Sri Lanka’s ground situation and out of pace with the  country’s trends.

United States-based Pedagogue’s contention was the mindset that was developed during the 1980s and 1990s at the American diplomatic mission in Colombo and Washington on Sri Lankan issues, viz race relations, ethnic strives, devolution, Tamil rights, rule of law, the structure of government, et al, which had Dno bearing  in the existed context.


Daya Gamage has had no evidence at the time whether the guest at the dinner was reflecting the sentiments of the  highest echelons of the GSL or if both ( the highest echelons of the government of Sri Lanka and this interlocutor) was  one of many persons commissioned to provide guidelines  to Sri Lankan conflict on resolution since the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.

It is significant, therefore, that he seemed to be ignorant of the remarkable “ link” between the development mind-set” of the 1980s/90s and the post- 2009 positions on Sri Lanka pursued by the United States. Or maybe Sri Lanka had no capacity to understand that “ link,” even though it is important lesson it may learn when working towards reconciliation and rearranging the polity.

The American perspective that had emerged since the domestic demise of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009 has in fact emerged out of the initial polity planks developed in those two earlier decades within the portals of American diplomatic mission with active collaboration of what was then called  the “ Near East and South Asia (NEA) Bureau of the State Department” ( now known as the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau).

It was the initial belief of this interlocutor that Colombo’s American diplomatic mission had changed the techniques it used to monitor the domestic scenario and situation, and as a result, was more favourable to Sri Lanka. But subsequent developments, with the  United States moving resolutions at Geneva’s  UNHRC and mounting the pressure associated with the United States these acts, did not match with this interlocutor’s understanding. It should be reminded here once again that this conversationalist was one of those who was ‘commissioned’ by the President of Sri Lanka to ascertain what “ lessons can be learned” from  Sri Lanka’s long war and recommend the reconciliation process to bring healing to the nation.

What has noted at the outset was three-fold:

  1. Ethnic tensions, race relations, Tamil demands and grievances, and their  place in a larger Sri Lankan society where the Sinhalese enjoy a numerical strength; the influence of the Tamil political lobby as well as the domestic human rights activists; and the dismal failure of some noted civil society leaders and state officials to intervene in the ongoing dialogue contributed largely  towards the development of the mind-set of the American FSO, which in turn saw Washington pursuing a rigid pricy towards Sri Lanka.
  • Because of the failure of Sri Lankan officials (its professionals) to effectively interact with the FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) and participate in the debate that was taking place within portals of Colombo’s American diplomatic mission and the failure or the two principal  national political parties ie: the UNP and the SLFP, in nurturing their own foreign-policy experts was a serious setback. This resulted in the Sri Lankan authorities and the State Department to be on different pages.  In consequence, the government of Sri Lanka had reacted in an ambiguous manner to pressures that are being mounted and face discomfort globally.
  • The Outcome had been the emergence of a particular policy that Washington has set its mind upon, a policy that is most uncomfortable for Sri Lankan in the post-LTTE era and saps its capacity to forge a strategic path.

When searching for the path towards national reconciliation today, it is imperative for Sri Lanka’s  “self-proclaimed foreign-policy experts” to  link the scenario  that developed within the US embassy in Colombo during the 1980s and 1990s, one that created the foundation of American policy towards Sri Lanka in the decade that followed, to the serious attempts of the US State Department ‘even to  contemplate’ to salvage the LTTE supreme  leadership in May 2009. Furthermore,  it should be borne on mind that this “ failure” to get the Tiger hierarchy out of the battle zone and to simultaneously minimize the civilian casualties that led the US State Department to intensify the pressure of a different kind since then involving the strategic use of the Tamil diaspora to effect changes in Sri Lanka.

Washington’s desire to keep the  LTTE  alive

To identify that “intense pressure of a different kind,” it is vital to ascertain why Washington wanted 

the LTTE alive, what steps it took to keep it alive, and what path it is taking to bring pressure on Sri Lanka and to then consider whether Sri Lanka can withhold that pressure.

At the outset it was noted that the interlocutor  with whom Daya Gamage had a dialogue at Los Vegas in May 2012 in the company of two Sri Lankan  Tamil medical personnel  either failed to grasp this larger scenario or was manifesting the sentiments of the  hierarchy with the Rajapaksa administration, which was once broadly popular  administration among the majority Sinhalese but was defeated on 8th January 2015 at the presidential election failed to scrutinize that larger scenario tin order to reestablish the cordial  and friendly relations that once existed between Colombo and Washington. Eliminating the misunderstanding between the two nations, as US senator John Kerry said in his foreign relations committee report of late 2009, is for mutual benefit and interest.

And to move away from what the former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said: “  There are things we do not know what we do not know;  there are known unknowns – that is to say there are knowns and unknowns, that is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.

courtesy: Daya Gamage- “Tamil Tigers Debt to America.”

To be continued…

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